There were 29 counts in the two-state region this year, 19 in Mississippi and 10 in Alabama. This is two counts more than last year with the return of the Washington County, MS count (after a 1-year hiatus) and the inauguration of the Brooklyn – Camp Shelby, MS Count near Hattiesburg (welcome, glad you’ve joined us). This total is only one fewer than the maximum number of counts ever for the two-state region. A total of 204 species were recorded, one fewer than last year. This number is about six below the average species total for the last 10 years. Alabama reported 183 species, and 191 were found in Mississippi. Southern Hancock County, MS (152) was the only count to reach the 150 species total. The next two highest (also coastal counts), Jackson County, MS and Gulf Shores, AL, each came in at 136. Eufaula N.W.R., AL (129) had the highest total for an inland count. In all, 13 of the counts recorded species totals in triple digits.
All of the counts combined found approximately 730,000 birds, which is the smallest total in the last 15 years. Of this total, Mississippi had about 470,000 and Alabama about 270,000. The most likely explanation is that the typical massive geese and blackbird flocks managed to avoid being within the count circles on count days. The Jackson, MS count was the only count to tally over 100,000 birds (with the bulk being blackbirds). Sidon, MS, Arkabutla Lake, MS, Gulf Shores, and Wheeler N.W.R., AL (in descending order) all recorded over 50,000 individuals. Gulf Shores had the regional highest tally of birds for 30 species, followed by Wheeler N.W.R. at 29, Southern Hancock County at 23, and Jackson County at 22. Southern Hancock reported an impressive eight species not found on any other count in the region. This was followed by Gulf Shores with four. Waterloo, AL, and Jackson County both had two, and nine other counts each had one regionally unique species.
Snow Geese numbers were way down this year, with a total of only 152,000 reported. Last year, the Sidon count alone totaled 571,000. Sardis Lake, MS reported the only Cackling Geese (2). The only Swans were four Tundra Swans at Waterloo. The winter range of American Black Duck extends into the northeast portion of this region. Thus, seven reported from Wheeler N.W.R. was not unexpected, but one as far southwest as Hattiesburg was. A total of 1306 Canvasbacks reported from 12 counts (with a max of 912 from Guntersville, AL) is the largest number in over a decade. A count week White-winged Scoter was found inland at Auburn, AL (photo). A total of 38 Black Scoters were reported on three counts, with a max of 27 at Gulf Shores. Southern Hancock County reported the only Long-tailed Duck. The only Common Merganser was recorded at Gulf Shores. The 20,162 Ruddy Ducks on 19 counts was about double the typical number (max 11,981 at Guntersville).
A total of only 17 Northern Bobwhites were reported (on 4 counts). This is the third time in the past decade that the CBC total has dipped into the teens and illustrates the precarious state of this species within the region. Waterloo reported three Red-throated Loons, and single Pacific Loons were recorded at Waterloo and Guntersville. A combined 21 Anhingas (6 counts) is well below average. Small numbers were well scattered through the region, but absent from the lower Mississippi delta, their winter stronghold for the last several winters. Single American Bitterns were at Jackson County and at Wheeler N.W.R. Small numbers of Little Blue Herons were found along the coast as usual, but a single inland at Eufaula N.W.R. was unexpected. Jackson County reported the only Green Heron. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are noticeably less common in winter in the region than Black-crowneds. The two found at Southern Hancock County are the first reported in four years, since a single resident bird was reported at Birmingham, AL for several years in a row. White Ibis have a distribution similar to Anhinga. They are common (but somewhat spotty) along the coast, common to abundant in the lower Mississippi delta, and unexpected elsewhere in the region. Like Anhinga, they were absent from the Mississippi delta this year (though 6 were reported from Natchez), but two reports from central Alabama (5 at Eufaula N.W.R., and 2 at Montgomery) are notable. Washington County South reported the only Harlan’s Hawk. Common Moorhens are slowly rebounding (51 on 7 counts in the southern half of the region) and moving into new locations, but the total numbers remain less than half the numbers from a decade ago. The 13,115 Sandhill Cranes on five counts (max 12,971 at Wheeler N.W.R.) is more than double the numbers from recent years. The small resident population of Whooping Cranes at Wheeler N.W.R. (14) (established 8 years ago) has increased into the teens for the last three years.
Jackson County, which frequently reports the only Black-necked Stilts in the region, had 30 this year, but Southern Hancock County also had three. Dunlin were common on all the coastal counts as expected, but also reported inland from Dahomey-Great River Road, MS (125) and Eufaula N.W.R. (10). The 1513 Wilson’s Snipe on 16 counts (max 921 at Sidon) was well above the average of recent years. Single Lesser Black-backed Gulls were at Arkabutla Lake and Sardis Lake, MS, and a count week Great Black-backed Gull was at Gulf Shores. Caspian Terns were found on all the coastal counts as expected, but one was also found inland at Jackson. Southern Hancock County had a flock of Black Skimmers (60), along with a count week record from Dauphin Island, AL. White-winged Doves were on all the coastal counts, but also inland at the two state capitals, Jackson, MS (1) and Montgomery, AL (5). Natchez, MS had an impressive 23 Inca Doves. Common Ground-Doves were on all the coastal counts and inland at Sidon (3) and Eufaula N.W.R. (1). Single Short-eared Owls were found at Eagle Lake, MS and Guntersville. Gulf Shores had an Archilochus sp. hummingbird, a Rufous Hummingbird, and a Selasphorus sp. hummingbird, and Hattiesburg, MS had a hummingbird sp.
Southern Hancock County had an astounding list of flycatchers that included a Least Flycatcher (photo and voice documentation, the first CBC record for the region), a Vermilion Flycatcher (the only record this year), a Tropical Kingbird (photo, the first CBC record for the region), and a Western Kingbird (the only record this year). Six White-eyed Vireos on four counts (3 at Eufaula N.W.R., 1 at Auburn, 1 at Brooklyn MS, and 1 further north at Noxubee N.W.R., MS) was more than usual. A Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Auburn was a good find. A total of only three Red-breasted Nuthatches and those only from far north and eastern counts (2 from Waterloo and 1 from Guntersville) (plus a count week bird from Natchez in the southwest) indicate that this was definitely not an invasion year for that species. However, Golden-crowned Kinglets did push slightly further south than usual, being reported from all the counts except for two of the coastal counts. Typically that species is missed on many of the more southerly counts. Going the other direction, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are uncommon in winter away from the coast, but this year were found on six interior counts, including two at Eufaula N.W.R., one in the far north at Wheeler N.W.R. in Alabama, and one north to Dahomey along the Mississippi River. Likewise, Gray Catbirds are unusual away from the coast in winter, but were found on five scattered interior counts through the southern part of the region north to Montgomery (1) in Alabama and Lauderdale County (1) in Mississippi.
Palm Warblers, common only along the coast, were found on five inland counts, including one as far north as Tuscaloosa, AL. A Yellow-throated Warbler was found at Vicksburg, MS and a count week bird was at Gulf Shores. Eufaula N.W.R. had three Black-and-white Warblers. A Wilson’s Warbler was reported from Southern Hancock County. These species of warblers are all uncommon in the region in winter. Corinth, MS reported the only Bachman’s Sparrow. Gulf Shores and Jackson County both reported single Grasshopper Sparrows. Fourty-four Henslow’s Sparrows were found on the Jackson County count in prime winter habitat, with another reported from Natchez. Four Le Conte’s Sparrows were reported at Sardis Lake, plus singles at Grenada, MS, Brooklyn, and Southern Hancock County. Four Lincoln’s Sparrows on three counts was above average. These included two at Wheeler N.W.R. and singles at Eufaula N.W.R. and Southern Hancock County. Lapland Longspurs were found in the far northwest (102 at Moon Lake, MS, and 100 at Arkabutla Lake, MS), further east in Alabama (13 at Wheeler N.W.R.), and also along the coast (6 at Gulf Shores). Three Baltimore Orioles on two counts (2 at Gulf Shores and 1 at Montgomery) were good finds. Finally, Dauphin Island reported the only Nutmeg Mannikin as a count week bird.
Thanks to the 480 of you who spent those 1423 hours traveling 6896 miles (by foot, car, boat, and golf cart) counting birds in the field plus the additional 19 of you watching feeders. A special yawn of thanks to those of you who spent those 47 pre-dawn hours owling. See you next year. Bring your friends.